Why Senate is divided over nominees into PenCom board

There is pent-up anger in the Senate over the names of nominees by President Muhammadu Buhari into the board of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), writes TAIWO AMODU.

The lawmakers resumed last week at the National Assembly after their annual recess. At the Senate, the usual exchange of banters among senators on the floor of the Red Chamber took a flight for a rancorous session at the commencement of plenary. The subject of discord was the list of nominees for the board of the National Pension Commission (PENCOM).

President Muhammadu Buhari had in a letter addressed to the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, nominated the duo of Dr Oyindasola Oluremi Oni and Aishat Umar from North-Central and North-East respectively for the office of chairman and drector general of the board, respectively. Those nominated as commissioners were Hannatu Musa (North-West); Clement Akintola (South-West); Ayim Nyerere (South-East) and Charles Emukowhale from the South-South.

Senator representing Abia South and Senate Minority Leader,  Enyinnaya  Abaribe,  had raised objection to  the nomination of  Aishat Umar from the North-East to replace  the former director general of the commission, Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, from Anambra State in the  South-East alleging that  it  was in flagrant breach of the Act establishing the PENCOM. He said: “I recall that the tenure of the incumbent was truncated. Therefore, the new letter from the President that has now moved the chairman of the commission to another zone may not be correct because it is against the law setting up the National Pension Commission. Before you send it to the appropriate committee tomorrow, I wish to draw the attention of the committee to it.’

Nigerian Tribune checks revealed that by the provisions of Section 20(1) and section 21(1) and (2) of the National Pension Commission Act 2014, “in the event of a vacancy, the President shall appoint replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining tenure.” Senator Lawan, however, dismissed   Senator Abaribe’s point of order and observation. He said: “That is for me to interpret because I interpret the laws here. If there is any petition to that effect, it should be sent to the committee.” Further checks revealed that the president of the Senate had since mandated the Committee on Establishment and Public Service Matters to screen Buhari’s nominees for appointment as chairman, director general and commissioners of the commission.

 

The gathering storm

Investigation revealed that senators across party divides are poised for a showdown with Lawan whom they accused of bending to the whims and caprices of certain individuals in the Presidency in their plot to continue to promote sectional agenda. A senator, who craved not to be named, said  that senators from the South-West and the North Central are in league with their colleagues from the South-East to frustrate the confirmation of Aishat Umar as a substantive director general of the PenCom Board.

Following the signing into law of the Pension Reform Act (2004) by a former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), with the PenCom, as the regulatory body was introduced with Muhammad Ahmad from the North-East as the pioneer director General of the commission. The Act 2004 acknowledged as one of the landmark achievements of the Obasanjo administration, which addressed  and eliminated the problems associated with pension schemes in the country, has since been  bogged down by nerve-racking power game of ethnic domination under the Buhari administration.

Anohu Amazu appointed as director general in 2014 by  Obasanjo’s successor,  Dr Goodluck Jonathan,  for a renewable term of five years, had her tenure terminated abruptly in 2017 (two years to the end of her first term), as President Buhari  dissolved the board of PenCom along with 22 other heads of federal agencies. Buhari’s move to present another northerner in person of Aliyu Abdulrahman Dikko to the Senate for confirmation as the director general along with five others as chairman and executive commissioners angered senators from the South and  it was  subsequently kept  in abeyance   by the eighth Senate under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki.

 

The North gang-up

A senator from the South-West opposed to the nomination of Aishat Umar  recalled  that move by Vice-President,  Professor Yemi Osinbajo to push for the nomination of Mr Funsho Doherty from the South-West  as  successor to Mrs Anohu -Amazu as the director general of the  commission was frustrated by a certain  cabal in the Presidency while Osibanjo was in the saddle as acting president and  his boss was abroad for an undisclosed ailment. The lawmaker said: “Professor Osinbajo,  as acting President, could not push it through. “They threatened him with impeachment and used the lawmakers from the North to block him, citing provisions of the same Pension Act. “

 

Ninth Senate and autonomy

In the ninth Senate, several federal appointments which make a mockery of the Federal Character principle had been sent for confirmation of the legislature. While lawmakers raised their voices against some, in most instances, they complain in hushed tones in the comfort of their offices.  According to findings, lawmakers criticised the lopsided appointments in the Federal Character Commission (FCC), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and the Nigerian Security, as well as Defence sector.  They equally faulted the appointment of vice-chancellors of 40 federal universities.

Speaking on the floor of the Red Chamber on the composition of the FCC, Senator Abaribe, along with others protested the appointment of Dr Muheeba Dankaka, as the chairman of the board of the FCC and 36 other members. He called the attention of his colleagues to the lopsidedness in the appointment of Dankaka and the secretary of the commission as he noted that the two principal positions in the commission had always been occupied on the basis of North and South.

The Senate minority leader further argued that over the years, northerners were being appointed as chairmen of the commission while the secretary always from the Suth in line with section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. According to him, “Appointment of Mohammed Bello Tukur from Taraba State in 2017 as secretary of the commission by President Muhamnadu Buhari, gave the impression that a new chairman would be from the South but the nomination of Dr. Muheeba Dankaka from Kwara State as the new chairman, violated the age-long principle.

The Senate Committee on Federal Character equally faulted the appointment of 40 Vice-chancellors of Federal Universities.  The acting chairman of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), Dr Shettima Bukar Abba, had equally raised concern over the appointment of vice chancellors of the 40 federal universities in Nigeria which he confessed was contrary to the principle of federal character. Abba, who expressed his disaffection before the lawmakers,   said that appointments into the Federal Government agencies in recent times have been done in total disregard for the much-desired ethnic balancing. “Mr. Chairman, there are 40 federal universities in Nigeria and when we took stock of vice-chancellors, especially the recent appointments that bred protest here and there at the six geo-political level, some zones were not adequately represented.”

Ahead  of the confirmation of the nominees for the Pension board, some of the lawmakers who have joined forces against Aishat Umar’s confirmation are however of the opinion that the president of the Senate and certain individuals in the Presidency  might be  dropping President Buhari’s name to promote their own agenda ahead of 2023 Presidency. One of the senators from the North-Central alleged that the nominee for the position of director general, who incidentally is from the North-East as the president of the Senate, has another senior Presidency official from the zone as her backer.

 

Staff morale dims

With the exit of Anohu-Amazu in 2017, Aishat Umar, whose confirmation as substantive director general has courted controversy, has been managing the affairs of the agency. Further checks revealed that her stewardship in the last two years and ten months have not escaped the prying eyes of legislators saddled with oversight functions on Ministries, Department and Agencies  (MDAs). Last year,  the House of Representatives set up an  ad-hoc investigating committee to beam its searchlight on   PenCom, sequel to  a motion by Honourable Benjamin Wayo (APC, Benue), who noted numerous illegalities and sharp practices allegedly committed in the agency. Honourable  Jonhnson Agbonayinma   was appointed  chairman of the House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee. The committee, at a public hearing on  February 7,  2019, directed PenCom to submit copies of memoranda by the board and Ministry of Finance approval of 300 per cent hike in exit benefits and salaries for the Acting DG and some senior staff; details of contracts awarded since April 2017, including payments for contracts, letters of award, and names of beneficiary companies; schedules of salaries expended on the Acting DG, Directors, and all payments made to the Communication Department of PenCom; from April 2017 to date; copies of travel documents, tickets, and payments made in respect of local and foreign travels by both the director general and Directors (GMs) from April 2017; and a copy of the letter from House of Representatives Committee on Federal Character allegedly suspending the recruitment of 43 persons, even when the Acting director general acknowledged approval for their employment was given by the Commission.”

The ad-hoc committee could not complete its assignment as its chairman resigned from his position, citing undue pressures from certain quarters. A source at Pencom accused President Buhari of cold indifference to the twin evil of nepotism and primordial politics that is destroying the enviable legacy in a thriving pension scheme left by his predecessors. “It is quite unfortunate that Buhari, himself a pensioner, upon assumption of office, allowed the pension Commission to slide. It is clear that Buhari is being misled to defy the law to destroy PenCom and pension industry by imposing Aisha Dahir-Umar from Adamawa State, in acting capacity for almost four years. Now they are taking the insult and destruction even further by trying to shove her down our throats as a substantive DG for another 5 years (in the first instance), not because of merit, but for nepotistic reasons.”

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